Need to Know: July 11, 2019

Fresh useful insights for people advancing quality, innovative and sustainable journalism 

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Bipartisan support is brewing for legislation that would help media companies fight back against big tech (Washington Post)

But did you know: State lawmakers try to bridge widening local-news gaps (Columbia Journalism Review) 

More lawmakers are introducing legislation designed to protect and preserve local news, writes Monica Busch. In 2018, New Jersey led the way with the establishment of the Civic Information Consortium, which would create a state fund for media projects — although yesterday it was announced that the original $5 million earmarked for the fund has gone down to $2 million. Massachusetts has recently developed a bill that would create a commission to study “communities underserved by local journalism” and make policy recommendations for state news media business models, potential nonprofit solutions, and “identifying career pathways…for aspiring journalists in Massachusetts.” And at the federal level, U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier has introduced the Saving Local News Act, which is aimed at making it easier for news organizations to claim nonprofit status. “I see it as advocating for democracy,” says Massachusetts Rep. Lori Ehrlich. “Without a functioning news industry, you know, our democracy breaks down.”

+ Related: “Local news need federal help” (New York Times)

+ Noted: U.S. newsroom employment has dropped a quarter since 2008, with greatest decline at newspapers (Pew Research Center); GOP governor candidate denies woman reporter access because of her gender (Mississippi Today); The News Project, a “news business in a box,” goes live with its first customer, CALmatters (TechCrunch)

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TRY THIS AT HOME

With sports, local newspapers try ‘unbundling’ the subscription (Digiday)

Newspapers’ “rookie days” of digital sports subscriptions are over, writes Max Willens. Having proven a successful experiment for publishers like McClatchy, Hearst and the Dallas Morning News, now sports subscriptions are increasingly viewed as a long-term revenue opportunity — if publishers can fend off threats from competitors like The Athletic and Yahoo Sports. One potential obstacle to attracting and keeping sports subscribers is the famously poor user experience of many local news websites (especially when compared to the sleek no-ads experience of The Athletic). “The customer is not the first person being served on those websites,” said Chris Krewson, the executive director of LION Pubs. “I love the experimentation, and it’s sorely needed revenue, but until they put the customer at the front of what they do, they’re going to be limited.”

+ Earlier: An inside look at the Miami Herald created Sports Pass, its yearly, pay-in-full sports subscription for which 80% of subscribers are out-of-market (Better News)

OFFSHORE

U.K. and Canada will give millions to global media defense fund (CNN) 

The United Kingdom and Canada are together giving more than $4 million to a fund to provide legal help to journalists around the world, reports Hadas Gold. The fund will be administered by UNESCO, and a group of “like-minded” countries will be formed as a sort of “rapid response” team to help foreign ministers and ambassadors “react as one when abuses take place,” said U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is running to be the U.K.’s next prime minister. Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who was appointed a special envoy for media freedom by Hunt, will also convene a panel of legal experts who will advise governments on how their laws or actions affect media freedom.

OFFBEAT

Twitter backs off broad limits on ‘dehumanizing’ speech (New York Times)

In its first official guidelines on what constitutes dehumanizing speech, Twitter has banned insulting speech aimed at religious groups — a major scaling back of its original guidelines, proposed last year to cover many more types of insulting speech. Twitter says it scaled down its policy due to technical reasons — it’s easier to identify narrowly-defined speech on the platform, and there’s less risk of uneven enforcement or unintentionally removing benign speech. “We get one shot to write a policy that has to work for 350 million people who speak 43-plus languages while respecting cultural norms and local laws,” said Jerrel Peterson, Twitter’s head of safety policy. “It’s incredibly difficult, and we can’t do it by ourselves. We realized we need to be really small and specific.”

UP FOR DEBATE

Is the closing of the Youngstown Vindicator a harbinger? Maybe not. (Poynter)

Last week’s sudden announcement that The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, would be shutting down at the end of summer has fueled fearful speculation that it will be the first of many such liquidations in mid-sized cities, writes Rick Edmonds. But the family-owned newspaper’s closure is due to a number of circumstances that may not be so easily replicated: lack of next-generation interest, bad timing when it came to connecting with potential buyers, and the fact that The Vindicator is saddled with a printing press purchased in 2010 — a decision that backfired, the owner has said. “I haven’t suddenly become Mr. Sunshine on the prospects of regional papers,” writes Edmonds. “But my experience has been that change comes slowly to the roster of dailies. Drastic downsizing or a sale upstream remains far more common than going out of business. I would look for a few more Vindicators over the next year but not a cascade.”

SHAREABLE

Local newsrooms are teaming up with National Geographic Society to cover the environment (Poynter)

There’s been a spate of local news partnerships around climate change recently, and now another promising development is brewing. Two collaborative reporting projects around the Delaware River Watershed and the Ohio Watershed will now be able to tap into the prodigious resources of National Geographic — its visual journalists, technologists and scientific experts — as part of a $650,000 grant from The Lenfest Institute, The National Geographic Society and the William Penn Foundation. The goal is to build the capacity for long-term environmental reporting and to serve as a test case, says Jim Friedlich, executive director of the and CEO of the Lenfest Institute. “Each participating news organization will learn from — and help teach — the project in their own right, but also build connective tissue between news organizations serving the same watershed, for the long haul.”

+ Related: How broadcast meteorologists localized climate change with weekly analyses and high-resolution graphics provided free from Climate Central, an independent nonprofit (RTDNA)

+ The Jeffrey Epstein case was cold, until a Miami Herald reporter got accusers to talk (New York Times)